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Navigation Lesson #4: Attack Points

Another navigation strategy is selecting attack points. These are fairly obvious features/locations that you can travel to quickly and without a careful following of your compass bearing. This is the best strategy if the checkpoint isn’t on or near a large, distinct, easily identifiable feature. When you reach the attack point, you then establish an exact bearing and follow that into the checkpoint at a slower pace. Your accuracy in following the bearing decreases as the distance you travel increases so it’s better to seek out really large features you can travel too early on in your journey toward a CP rather than an exact bearing. If necessary, break a long leg up into several shorter sections between identifiable features, even if it means following a zig-zag course. You will cover a greater distance, but your travel will be faster and more accurate. This is extra important in overnight navigation.

The most common example of an attack point is a feature on or near a trail. This may be a “kink”, bend, intersection, a creek or gully crossing the trail, an obvious elevation change along the trail, or change in terrain type (e.g., moving from open ground to forest). You can move quickly along a trail, even if it’s more distance to the CP, and then at an obvious point along the trail, you take the bearing and venture off-trail toward the CP. For example, CP 31 at Seidman Park in our 2014 Epic Edition offers several potential attack points depending on whether you are coming from the south or the north.  The trail bends provide the most obvious attack points but you could also drop down in the reentrant/gully (orange) or valley (green). Other common attack points are water features such as lakes and swamps, hilltops, ridges, depressions, and man-made features (power lines, bends in roads, buildings).

Here’s an example of a lake that is a clear attack point along the way. You could try to maintain a direct route along your bearing from CP A to B but over this distance it will be difficult, especially if the bushwhacking is thick. Instead, head for Bullhead Lake with a quick bearing but no need to follow it exactly. You can move at as quick a pace as you can because there’s no fear of missing the lake. Once you see the lake below (you know from a past lesson that water features are almost always below the land surrounding them because of drainage), you can follow along the entire edge of the lake at a high speed before taking a bearing on the southwest side where you are much closer to CP B. From there, you’re pace should slow as you follow the bearing closely. You are so close to CP B that the accuracy of your bearing will be much greater.

The ideal way to set up an attack point is to begin with the checkpoint (control), find nearby attack points, select the best attack point, and then pick the best route to that attack point. This is called the C-A-R method which stands for Control-Attack Point-Route, developed by Winifred Scott (in Squiggly Lines by Mark Lattanzi).  For long treks, you might do this several times where the “checkpoints” are really the series of attackpoints you are stringing together to get to the final checkpoint. For example, the southwest corner of Bullhead Lake above is the final attackpoint, the midsection of the lake is a prior attackpoint. If CP A were off the map to the north, the bend in the road just east of A could be an initial attackpoint. You are thus linking these three attackpoints together, working backwards from B. As you take on longer and longer adventure races, this skill becomes imperative. In the Wilderness Traverse in Canada, we would link 6-8 hours worth of attack points together through the wilderness before we finally reached the actual control or transition area.

Make Your Mountain Bike Faster

1. MOST BENEFICIAL: Switch tires to a semi-slick tread pattern (less pronounced knobs), depending on your experience and the difficulty and slickness of the trails you will be on. Ask your local bike shop what they recommend (West Michigan Bike & Fitness is great if one is near you)

2. Inflate tires to the maximum pressure allowed (easy)

3. Lock out your front shock if you have that feature (easy)

4. Get clip in pedals and shoes (good tip for any bike)

5. Move your seat forward and flip your handlebar stem upside down (get help doing this if needed) for a more aerodynamic posture. (probably not worth it)

6. Set up a bike tow system if one of you needs some help at times. This can be a HUGE time-saver if one of you bonks. It also can be dangerous to be tied together. Requires practice and caution, including “un-tying” on the fly which can result in the leash getting caught in the spokes of the “lead dog.”

Bike tow system

The #2 way (behind navigation) my wife and I have increased our speed during adventure races over the past few years has been to set up a tow system on our bikes. We use it on races with significant road and two-track biking. My wife still bikes hard, but I’m able to give her a much needed pull up hills and some help on the flat surfaces too. Search online for different options. We went with a heavy duty retractable dog leash. No joke! If you go this route, the most important thing to remember is that when the trailing biker unhooks, they must be very close before letting go of the rope so the carabiner doesn’t get caught in the back wheel! And don’t use it on singletrack trails or anything where control is tenuous.

Zip tie the leash to the seatpost, tie a carabiner to the end roughly 12 feet of rope (consider replacing the cord with climbing rope) and hook it to a bungee cord that’s attached to the stempost of the trailing bike.

photo 1  photo 3 photo 4

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